In the US, 50% of all pregnancies are unintended. Emergency contraception (EC) provides women with a last chance to prevent pregnancy. A woman may find EC useful if she recently engaged in unprotected sex and is not taking birth control, or is uncertain if her birth control is effective. EC is not intended to be used as the primary method of birth control, but rather as a back up. It also does not protect against STDs.
Countless rigorous studies have shown that oral EC, or the Morning After Pill, prevents pregnancy by delaying or inhibiting ovulation. This means that fertilization does not occur. It also means that EC pills are not abortifacients. In fact, oral emergency contraception has no impact on an existing pregnancy.
Plan B One-Step and the generic Next Choice One-Dose and My Way are available without a prescription at most pharmacies. Plan B One-Step can be found in the Family Planning section for $40-50, and the generic Next Choice One-Dose and My Way are available behind the counter for $35-45. Each includes a single dose of Levonorgestrel (a form of Progestin) and is most effective when taken within 3 days, although it may be taken up to 5 days after sexual intercourse.
Ulipristal, better known as Ella, is available by prescription only for as little as $40. Ella is unique in that it is approved for use — and is highly effective — for up to 5 days after intercourse. The Copper T IUD provides an alternative to the Morning After Pill and is a good choice if continuous birth control is desired. The Copper T IUD, or ParaGard, must be placed by a licensed healthcare professional within 5 days of ovulation to prevent pregnancy. Unlike EC pills, the copper IUD is approved for birth control for up to 10 years. Like EC pills, copper IUDs primarily prevent fertilization. They may also have post-fertilization contraceptive effects.
Data from the 2006-2010 National Survey of Family Growth found that, among US women of reproductive age, one in nine used emergency contraception at least once between 2006-2010. Roughly 50% reported that their use stemmed from unprotected sexual intercourse and fear that their method of birth control was ineffective. Many healthcare professionals now recommend that sexually active women who do not wish to get pregnant have EC pills on hand when possible so that it can be taken right away.
Katherine Calaway is at Baylor College of Medicine, MD candidate 2015 UT School of Public Health, MPH candidate
Stephanie Rico is a medical student at the Baylor College of Medicine